Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Slate-Pitch Bullshit

There is a recent trend - especially among economists - to argue that college doesn't really matter.  There's the Bill Gates Fallacy - he never graduated from Harvard.  This leaves aside the fact that he could get INTO Harvard.

There is the earnings/debt argument which makes a certain amount of sense.  If you piss away four years at college learning the finer points of beer pong and flip-cup, then perhaps you aren't really getting all that much out of your $150,000 tuition.

There is a classist argument that college degrees simply reflect the ability to pay for a college (or prepare for college admissions), and that, too, holds some merit.

But to proceed from that to "a college degree shouldn't matter as a credential for becoming President of the United States" is Slate-pitch bullshit.

(The "Slate-Pitch" is an article written to be provocative for the sake of being provocative.  Clicks, baby, clicks.)

The article mentions the two reasons why college tends to lead to higher wages: completing college means you have had a better education or college allows you to network with other high achieving people.  The liberal education of Jefferson versus the Old Boy Network of Goldman Sachs.

The article notes that Walker was able to get into Marquette and completed roughly three years worth of coursework.  This is kind of the Bill Gates Fallacy (except Marquette, while a good school, ain't Harvard).  "Hey, he went to some classes.  He learned some stuff.  He met some people.  Lay off."

The problem is that one thing a college degree demonstrates that college attendance doesn't is the ability to actually finish something.  Sarah Palin went to roughly a half-dozen colleges, dropping out and restarting like an academic yo-yo.  It should be no surprise that she failed to finish her term as governor of Alaska.  Many colleges have some sort of capstone assignment; I had to write a short thesis (about 20 pages) for my degree.  The capstone is kind of a litmus test for finishing and to sum up your education.

I agree that simply GOING to college is not a prerequisite for being president, but LEARNING something there is.

Jeb Bush went to one of the finest schools in the world and then went on to Yale.  He spent his time at Andover getting high and then got into Yale because he was a Bush.  It could very well be that he learned something or very little in those 8 years.  But he did finish.  Barack Obama screwed around his first years at Occidental, but then turned it on at Columbia and went on to be the editor of the Harvard Law Review.  He finished and he learned.  Hillary Clinton?  Same thing.

There was a scene in The West Wing where Jeb Bartlett - I think - talks about how it's not important that someone can quote Cicero but it is important that they are able to consider all sides of a question.

A good college education - as distinct from a college degree or college attendance - stimulates the ability to see beyond the narrow vision of self.  That's why it comes in the early 20s, when you are forced to look outside your self interest.  A good college education can force you to confront viewpoints and perspectives and information that discomfort you.  In fact, the real value of going to Harvard is not actually the professors, but your peers, with whom you argue about any number of things into the wee small hours of morning.

If all we see of college is a credential, then Walker's lack of degree isn't a big deal.  But if we see instead someone who attended college primarily for the parties and the student politics of the Young Republicans, are we seeing someone who has wrestled with hard and uncomfortable ideas? Or are we seeing someone who saw no value in continuing to move beyond his comfort zone.

Walker's tenure as governor has not demonstrated a man who is comfortable with nuance or who is amenable to listening to all sides.  He has been combative with his ideological enemies and - in the words of Charlie Pierce - "turned his state into a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Enterprises".

What is ironic, is that Walker - with his ideological certainty and disdain for academic experience (see his current budget) - looks more like George W. Bush than does Jeb.

Does a degree matter?  I guess not.  But a college education does, because it opens up the mind in ways that it needs to open.  Including to things like freaking evolution.

Having said all that, indeed for all those reasons, I still think Walker is the man to beat in the GOP field.

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